Actor Lee Ki Woo Released from Army
Actor Lee Ki Woo was discharged from the military after completing his mandatory two years of service.
FT Island is now a bone fide hallyu band. The band debuted in 2007, and since has taken everything one step at a time to become hallyu stars loved not only in Asian countries such as Japan and China, but also in Europe. We met with the five members of FT Island, who are busy promoting the single Severely from their new album Grown-Up.
Lee held a discharge ceremony on the morning of September 1, at the Seoul Samcheong-dong Armed Forces Seoul Hospital. With this ceremony, he finally put his two years of army service behind him.
Lee Ki Woo entered the army on November 9, 2009, at the Chungnam Nonsan Training Camp. After six weeks of basic training, he served on active duty at the Armed Forces Seoul Hospital.
On the day of his release, Lee showed his delight with a bright smile and a proud announcement that he “was officially ordered to be discharged.”
Lee Ki Woo made his debut in 2003 with the film Classic, and was also loved for his roles in MBC Rude Women and SBS Star’s Lover.
You must be busy these days.
Lee Hong Gi: Yes we’re so busy. These days we get up early in the morning every day. We have to prepare early in the morning on the days we have music show schedules, but these days we have music shows every day.
You probably don’t even notice you’re busy because your album is a success. ‘Severely’ is being received pretty well.
Lee Hong Gi: It’s quickly becoming popular similar to how Love Love Love, which we released in 2010, became popular. I knew [Severely] would be popular. It’s a song I’ve been keeping. This song was supposed to come out before Like the Birds last year, but I kept it and had it released early this year. The lyrics and the melody were great matches. I like the strong nuance of Severely. The song is difficult to sing, but the lyrics are difficult, too.
The lyrics are about a person severely in love; do you have any similar experiences?
Lee Hong Gi: Show business is severe. (Laugh) Whenever I sing love songs or songs about breaking up, I try to act it out. I try to think what I would feel like if I was in that situation.
It wouldn’t have been easy to play the instruments for this song, also.
Choi Min Hwan: I tried to play it with a lot of power and as if the notes were stretching forward. Hongki is good at expressing the emotions in the song. He does it well; it’s deep and sad.
Hong Gi’s voice has changed since his debut.
Lee Hong Gi: I like how it is now. It’s a voice that’s great in letting me sing the music I want to sing.
It’s always been like that, but it feels like FT Island has matured through this album.
Lee Jae Jin: It doesn’t make sense for us to stand still. Even the world of K-Pop is changing. Because there are many bands now, we have to continue to work hard. We get to show more when we become better at playing our instruments. We can even be better at jamming with other teams. Now we’ve been stabilizing, too.
You all must like different styles of music, but this time you didn’t go for those styles and produced an album in FT Island’s style again.
Lee Hong Gi: Ever since we released Love Love Love, our agency kept asking us what kind of music we would like to perform. But this time, we agreed we should aim for popularity just once more. In our next album, we’ll put in as many of our own songs as possible.
Do you disagree on anything related to music?
Lee Hong Gi: Of course we do a lot. We all like different styles of music, so we clash. But up until now, we’ve come to good compromises for our albums.
Are you thinking of working on the music you want separately?
Members: We don’t really want to go solo yet.
The Korean wave is pretty strong, and you’re helping it.
Choi Jong Hoon: It makes me think that we’ve worked hard. I thank our fans who have stayed with us all this time.
Lee Hong Gi: We’re proud that we’re going overseas as a band. It makes us really free to do what we want. I like band performances because we can put together our own performances and we can talk about what we feel. Of course, the Korean wave is the best.
But still, you’re an idol group; are you thinking of showing us some dance moves?
Members: No. We can’t dance.
Lee Hong Gi: People who like synchronized dance moves don’t come to our performances. Our fans want something else from our performances, so we’ll show things our style.
You’ll be performing in Los Angeles soon. How do you feel?
Choi Min Hwan: It’s great thinking that I’ll be encountering new things. It’s meaningful that we’re holding a concert, but I want to learn a lot.
Lee Hong Gi: When we first went to Japan, I caught a bad case of nostalgia in six months. But now that I think of it, I learned a lot. I was able to cultivate my dream and I got to learn about music. I’m expecting the same thing to happen this time. I think also that I want to start from the bottom in America, as an indie band.
Lee Jae Jin: We performed in a Canadian rock festival once, and we learned a lot from bands from other countries. We learned how to enjoy. We were envious of the liberal atmosphere, too.
Lee Hong Gi: We once had a drink with a foreign band, and they were so good looking. They were skilled, too. We were jealous.
It seems you’re dissatisfied in Korea?
Choi Min Hwan: It’s not that. We just want to take it step by step in America like we did in Japan. It’s just that because the cultures are different, we feel a lot of pros and cons.
Song Seung Hyun: For example, in Japan, it’s not only the vocalist that gets all the attention; they pay attention to all of the instruments. So they recognize the other members, too. But in Korea, because it’s centered on broadcasting and variety, the camera only comes to the vocalist. We’re sorry we can’t show how lively the other performers are.
Lee Jae Jin: We’re sad that people only recognize Lee Hongki. I wish they would recognize me, too (Laugh). We’re sad that people only recognize Lee Hongki when we’re all eating at a restaurant and things like that.
You’ve been active in both Korea and Japan, so you must know a lot about the differences between the two countries.
Lee Hong Gi: Japanese fans clap when the song is over. We can gauge the reactions to the song then. In Korea, as soon as you step onstage you can hear the cheers. But in Japan, it was scary because it was like we were receiving the results of our performance through the applause at the end. Now, we enjoy it. But these days, things have changed a lot. The Korean fans and Japanese fans are becoming similar. They’re all passionate.
You should go to Europe someday.
Lee Hong Gi: We should. We’re popular in Romania these days. They tell us we’re on the heels of TVXQ. I think it’s because East European men are all tall but we look small and look like pushovers. I don’t know if we should be entirely happy about that. (Laugh)
What does it feel like living as an idol in Korea?
Lee Hong Gi: Now we have a solid base of fans. That’s good. The competition is fierce these days. Every time we make a comeback, the mood is different. The singers that we stand on stage with always change. A lot of groups have disappeared. I don’t think we have to say any more about how precious our fans are.
You’ve debuted in 2007, so that makes you a six year old band. What do you think about that?
Lee Hong Gi: A while ago we went to attend a broadcast, and we were the oldest group, other than Sweet Sorrow. Korea changes quickly. We have little time to learn a new song and practice it. Whenever we come back to Korea after staying in Japan, we become nervous, nervous about how much we’ve been forgotten. But in Japan, we can feel ourselves becoming better at what we do.
You’ve been trainees since you were little.
Members: We all started off when we were in elementary school and middle school, and were trainees for two years and a half. Now we’re all like family. We don’t even fight a lot anymore. We know each other too much.
Some bands have criticized FT Island for not being a real band but a produced idol band.
Lee Hong Gi: Then I’ll ask a question. What are real bands supposed to be? We started playing our instruments since we were in middle school and elementary school, too. We probably have similar careers. We just came from different places. We don’t care. In the past we tried to change opinions like that, but now we just let them be. Now we have a lot of people who acknowledge bands like us.
Song Seung Hyun: I think they call us idols because we’re young and good looking. (Laugh) It feels good if you think about it.
Lee Jae Jin: I never thought I was good looking, but now I hear that I’m good looking because I’m a member of FT Island. (Laugh) It’s good I guess.
Members: It’s not really something to be proud of, but we didn’t even receive plastic surgery. It’s our pride. Aren’t our looks okay for someone who didn’t go through surgery? (Laugh)
Lee Hong Gi: But instead, we’re not growing any taller. (Laugh)
The best thing about FT Island is that it seems to enjoy being onstage.
Song Seung Hyun: Thanks for looking at it that way. But still I become nervous when I go onstage. I’m especially more nervous because I joined the team later than the others. I can even see my heart beat.
Choi Jong Hoon: When we perform live in Japan, I always have candy or gum in my mouth. I still get really nervous.
You’re a band. What do you want to take on in the future with your music?
Lee Hong Gi: A lot of things used to race through my head, but not anymore. I just want to work on music that’s cool and great. Music that fits our age. I don’t want to be limited to one genre, either. I think punk fits us at our age.
Lee Hong Gi appears in variety programs a lot; what do you think about variety or acting?
Lee Jae Jin: I really can’t do variety. I practiced impersonating a bit, but I don’t know if it’ll work.
Members: We plan on trying out acting when we get a chance.
What do you want to do the most among the things you can’t do because you’re celebrities?
Lee Hong Gi: Love. Love that doesn’t have to be kept secret but can be announced proudly.
Choi Jong Hoon: I want to spend money. We’re like an indie band. Everyone thinks we earn a lot of money when we say we’re an idol group, but no. (Laugh)
Song Seung Hyun: I want to travel.
Are you learning music more systematically?
Lee Jae Jin: Because we were busy, we’ve just been practicing and learning as it comes, but we do want to learn more systematically. We’re working for it.
What are your plans for the future?
Lee Hong Gi: We want to be a band that lasts long. A band that’s together even after we get married. We promised the head of our company yesterday that we would work like dogs. We’ll work hard so that we’re not forgotten. We’re even thinking of entering the army at the same time.
Is there anything more you really want to say?
Members: We really want to thank our fans. We all want to thank the members of our fan club Primadonna. It’s the end for us without our fans. Thank you, and we love you.
Photo credit: Hea Jung Min
Translation credit: Erika Kim
Reach reporter Oh MiJung on Twitter @isyutar!